Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Percy Bysshe Shelley :: Editors' Picks

Bill Henson
Untitled # 20,  2000-3

To the Moon
By Percy Bysshe Shelley

 Art thou pale for weariness?
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,

    Wandering companionless

Among the stars that have a different birth, --
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

I’m not exactly sure what it says about man, that he is always looking for something beyond himself, something greater than his surroundings? It could be that this question springs from, as La Rochefoucauld said, the fact that we can neither look the sun nor death directly in the face?
And what does it say about the human race that we must mythologize these forces, and every force, for that matter, we do not understand. What manic insecurity we must have that we find it necessary to make up fantastical stories in order to escape from the thoughts born of those treacherously quiet moments, those moments that otherwise would be filled with thoughts of the smallness we feel pushing us into the ground, only to be mocked by the stars and the growing night?

I must confess, I find it too horrible to consider the stars, or even a tree or a rock completely on their own – they laugh and destroy everything I believe makes me a conscious man. So they too must have stories forced upon them. They must be told their reason for being, a story that does not include them watching us, watching me.  But, as all stories do, these stories will eventually no longer satisfy our longing for answers, our longing for understandable forces, so we then tell stories of supermen living amongst the stars, playing conductor to the music of the spheres. But, today, these stories too have lost their truths. So much so that we have made up stories of men to replace them. Men who were like us and like the stars – Abraham, David, Moses, Solomon, Jesus, Mohammed. Men who are their own myths, and who can bring the sky, brightly, to the earth.
Even these stories now are suspect, maybe because our skies are so dark. A black sky with, as far as the eye can see, only stars in the form of Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen and Glen Beck. Now don’t get me wrong, I am endlessly fascinated with these guys. I, like everyone else, gaze at them as if gazing into the absence we hope is in heaven, the spotless mind on the other side of the Lethe. Nonetheless, I have to answer yes to Shelly’s question. I am weary of climbing to black heaven. So weary that I have turned back many times to the comfort of Geico ads (the Achilles’ heel of my aversion to consumer culture). The stories I know no longer chart a reliable path to the moon; they could be anywhere, go anywhere and seem absurd even to exist, if in fact they still do.
So I guess this brings me my last question: What does it say about man that he must, despite his weariness, continue to search the path that brings him further from his home in an effort to find himself? I don’t know. But I keep going down that same path hoping to find the answer to that question.      

-Adam Shutz

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